By ALEC BERRY
WHEELING, W.Va. — Although some dispute arose, a majority offered utmost support for housing and employment rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents during a public hearing Tuesday in Wheeling.
Almost 50 people, including residents of the city and people from all over West Virginia, approached the podium to offer their opinions to Wheeling City Council, as the group considers including such language in the city’s existing human rights ordinance. Speakers received three minutes each, and they filed through in a civil procession which took about two and a half hours to conclude.
About 350 people attended the event, held in Wheeling Park’s White Palace ballroom.
“For those of you who are against LGBT rights, for whatever reason, I would ask that you go home tonight and you look at your children and the children that you know,”Tyler Smith, a resident of Wheeling, said.
“If you pick out 10 children that you care about, one of them is gay.”
Smith was citing a statistic, making the case that diversity in sexual orientation is something more people should recognize.
Laura Carter, the former executive director of the YWCA in Wheeling, said while some interpret the amendment to the ordinance as “overstepping,” she said it’s simply a clear message of care issued from the city of Wheeling to its residents.
David Miller, who said he’s experienced discrimination firsthand, said this process and discussion have already made him feel welcome.
Wheeling resident David Wright called the proposed ordinance an “unlawful act” that he believes violates the First Amendment.
“It’s clear to me your minds are already made up,” Wright told council members. “Which makes my efforts here tonight a totally futile effort.”
Others, such as the Rev. Don Marsh, who is a member of Wheeling’s Human Rights Commission, said some are using government for their own purposes. He worries the ordinance would strip churches of their right to claim ownership of their beliefs, including the idea of homosexuality being a sin.
The draft of the ordinance does offer a religious exemption, which states any religious institution may ignore the policy’s anti-discrimination statutes. Marsh said the ordinance should offer additional protections for churches, although he did not specify what those would be.
Other religious leaders, such as the Rev. John Beckley, said it’s possible to balance beliefs with civic duties. He said too many use the Bible to “beat people” when the purpose of the book should be altruistic.
Dr. John Holloway of Wheeling, spoke to the matters of sexual orientation and gender identity scientifically. He said while limited research has been conducted, some evidence exists to support the thought both traits are genetic and not influenced by environment.
Sheila Cavalet of Weirton opposed the ordinance. She asked council to prove the need for such regulations, and said without this proof the matter is nothing but a point on a social agenda.
Lucas Dzmura of Wheeling said while it’s difficult to prove the existence of discrimination based on gender identity, he, as a transgender man, has faced it numerous times, citing a recent example of a slur directed at him. He said there’s a need for the ordinance so he may simply live his life like most others.
Near the hearing’s end, Wheeling resident Rebecca Kiger expressed her appreciation for those in the room who took the time to stand for “justice.” She said the showing differed from numerous occurrences in her life in which she witnessed discrimination, yet found no one who would speak against it.
“The arc of the universe bends towards justice, and you all showed that to me tonight,”Kiger said.
Council will conduct the first reading of the amended ordinance at its meeting on Dec. 6. Council will vote upon a second reading on Dec. 20.
See more at The Intelligencer/Wheeling News/Register